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Mashatu Tented Camp, Botswana, May 2010


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Day 0 - Fri 21st, Sat 22nd


On Friday made a 400 mile round trip from Kent (SE London) to Birmingham to drop off our pet cat with Mrs W's Mom and collect my Mom who we were taking with us on this holiday. She had never been on a safari before so this was a bit of a risk for us but we figured she's game for an edventure, and loves animals, so all should be fine. We spent Saturday packing and headed over to Heathrow in the afternoon for the SA airways evening flight to Jo'Burg. Slight mishap in the car park when the sole of Wifey's walking boots decided to part company with the rest of the shoes! Panic was resolved in the airport where a Timberland shop came to the rescue - I'm sure this was just a scam by wifey to get a new pair of shoes :)


Day 1 Sun 23rd


Landed at about 7 at Jo'Burg's OR Tamba airport and was collected by Robert, who would drive us the whole way to the Pont Drift border crossing. We picked up a selection of food at the airport for our journey (airplane food is not the greatest and we figured we owuldn't be eating again until late afternoon).


We made a single stop on route after about 3.5 hours of driving, to powder noses and grab a coffee (a petrol station type place). This is where we saw our first 'wildlife' in the form of a couple of small lizzards.


I missed most of the journey as I dozed off so the 6 hour drive just flew by. The Pont Drift crossing has to be the most unique border crossing in the world; a cage cable car that is whinched across the Limpopo River. What a way to enter Botswana! We were met in Botswana by a guy who took us to the Mashatu Main Reception to await for our driver to take us to camp. On time, our guide, Jakes turned up. We warmed to him straight away so was hopeful of a good time. He asked us whether we would like to head straight to camp, where we could freshen up and hopefully grab a short game drive this evening or would we like to just have a game drive straight from the border; well, we'd been travelling already for about a day so we took the obvious option and went straight to the game drive!




We entered the reserve and within no time at all there was loads of game to see (Giraffe and Eland being the notables) and then we got a punture. Jakes pulled over by a small pond with loads of bird life (Stilt, Egyptian Goose, Egret etc) and we chilled whilst he fixed the tyre. I offered to help but I think he sensed my help may be more of a hindrance :o




We started off again and came upon a troupe of Chacma Baboons with a big male and plenty of Moms with youngsters, certainly a sign that these primates are doing well here (as they do in most of southern Africa I believe). We heard a trumpet from an Ele so headed to where we thought the sound came from; this brought us to a small clearing with a pool and a Bull Ele busy having his lunch. We were about 30 yards away, with the pool between us, but still my Mom was amazed at how close we could get to the animals; was she in for a shock later!




Jakes didn't think it was this Ele making the noise earlier (lone Bulls tend not to trumpet unless provoked and there was nothing around him so we figured there must be a group of other Eles around). We headed off and whilst looking at a Tawny Eagle up in the trees a young Bull came towards us. He was very relaxed and unconcerned but was very curious about us. He approached us head on, trunk oustretched, smelling us. He got to about a yard in from of the jeep , then moved around to our left side for anouther look. He was now only a yard or so from my Mom and Wifey (I was on the other side!) so they got a great view of this young boy. He clearly decided we weren't that interesting so continued on his way. Wow, we knew there were lots of Ele's around this area, but 2 good sightings in almost as many minutes boded well for us.






We also had a brief sighting of a Waterbuck whilst with the Ele - Jakes says these are seldom seen here so we felt lucky to see them. in fact, for the rest of the 6 days at Mashatu neither us or anyone else saw one of these antelope.





Jakes had been trying to contact the camp since we left the border but his radio was not working; we were supposed to be meeting our tracker (and our sundowner cooler box) en-route but it looked like this may not happen. Not to worry, we had now found the group of Ele's who we had probably heard earlier.


This was a smallish group (about 10 Ele's) with the obvious big females, a number of young calves, plus a number of young males. Well clearly the mothers were not keen on the young males getting too close to the calves so there was a little bit of friction going on. As we sat there watching, one mom took exception to a male and trumpetted at him and chased him; unfortunately she sent him in our direction, he saw us and panicked, sending him back into the herd only to be chased again by the mother. The mother clearly thought we were to blame as she then trumpetted at us and half mock charged us. She was not a happy lass, so we left them to their arguments! This took us past a tree with a few White Backed Vultures perched and a number of Marabou storks circling high above.





Jakes spotted Lion tracks, that seemed to be a day old. so we didn't get too excited, then clear in the sand where fresh lion tracks - now we were excited! We followed the tracks to an open area; Jakes was looking at the tracks trying to work out which direction they had gone when i spotted a slight movement on the far side of the opening. Jakes said 'Lions' and we all smiled (well, wifey and I did, I think Mom was still in awe of all the animals we were seeing).


We headed over to the far side and what did we find but a lioness with 2 young cubs, another lioness and the pride Male (with one white eye). What a find on our very first drive. We stopped by them and unlike most times when you find lions and they do the normal lion thing (i.e. sleep) the 2 cubs were very active, first playing with their Mom, then annoying their Dad.










Jakes explained that this is the only pride in the area and the male is the only aduly male. He is only 4 years old, which is obviosuly young for a pride male, and he used to have a brother but he had been killed by hunters across the border in Zimbabwe. This is a real issue here as the hunters over the border bait the predators and shoot them; currently there is not much hope for the long term survival of this pride as there is no a real risk that this male will start to mate with his sisters and then his own daughters and that there are no other males in the area (apart from his own son - we'll see him later) to displace him and expand t he gene pool. Very sad situation. We tried to put this out of our minds as we watched the beautiful cats playing and enjoying family life.


Ironically it was at this moment that the radio started to work so Jakes called the sighting in to other vehicles in the area, one of whom was the one we were supposed to be meeting. As this came closer we left the cats and met our tracker, Ona, and the cooler box :) This jeep was actually from Main Camp so we said 'hi' to everyone and they were very excited to be going to see the lions next. Calling in sightings is the norm at Mashatu and they also limit each viewing to only 3 cars at a time. So this means every jeep has the chance to see a good sighting and the stress on the animals is hopefully minimised. I personally liked this setup and it seemed to work well for the time we were there.


We headed off to the place we were to have our sundowner and saw some general game on the way (Kudu, Giraffe, Impala etc). The sundowner spot was a place high on the banks of the river (mostly dry river) where the Ele's come down to drink each day. This is a great spot and one we came back to a number of times during our stay but I have no complaints about that.




After the sundowner we headed to the camp to get freshened up ready for dinner at 8. The camp was nice and 'rustic', nothing over the top or pluch at all. The tents were basic tents about the size of a double room in a hotel, with 2 single beds (rather than a double), a side unit of drawers and 2 side tables. There was an en-suite toilet and seperate shower outside the tent (this made for some interesting night time visits to the loo). This is really all you need for a safari camp in my view (Main Camp is a different kettle of fish entirely). The camp has an area where breakfast is taken which also has a 'lounge' area and a small bar. The 8 o'clock mainmeal is taken in a seperate Boma. In addition to this there is a small swimming pool (much too cold whilst we were there to try this) and a hide over-looking a small pond - problem is that there was so much water availble to the animals in the reserve due to the late rains that not much needed to use the pond whilst we were there, although we were told during the dry season they get all sorts of game at the pond.


The only surprise for me was the need for an electric fence around the camp - it was said this was to keep the Ele's out and from destroying the trees in camp and that other game can still get in - this just felt unneccessary based on my experience at other camps were animals were present (e.g. Lagoon, Lebala, Little Kwara, Ill Moran) but these are more open camps compared to Tented camp so maybe this is required.


At lunch we met a group of other Brits who were on a photography tour with a professional call Peter Smart; like us they were to be there a total of 6 nights and they had just 2 nights left. I saw this as a good sign if there was enough in the area to keep a Pro busy for 6 days!


Hit the sack at 9-30 that night and slept like a log.

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Day 2, Monday 24th


Up at 6 for our first full day at Mashatu. Game drives don't start here till 6-45 so plenty of time to get ready and have a quick coffee (unfortunately we couldn't skip all this and leave earlier). There is still only the 3 of us plus Jakes and tracker Ona this morning but we will be gaining 2 more couples later (one from Main Camp and another coming in from Vic Falls).


The sun is already up as we head out of camp over the small river/stream; plenty of general game in the area (Gnu, Impala, Giraffe, tree squirells) and loads of birds to keep us interested (Little Plover, Saddlebilled Stork, Black Stork, juvenile Eagle Owl).








We head down to the river and encounter our first big Ele herd. The Ele's come down to the river each morning for a drink and I guess to socialise. In total there must have been over 70 Ele's, the biggest concentration I have ever seen. Such an amazing sight. Due to the sand banks down to the river bed being soft and the Ele's being ensure of foot, it was fun just watching them navigate their way down. Some just ran, others slid on knees, some even crawled on all fours. It seemed that each family group had a shared technique, I assume learned from their elders.












The interaction between each famaily group was also very interesting. As new groups came in, others moved over to allow a new group in, or sometimes the new group would be pushed to a far corner of the area where the water was less clean. Many of the Ele's also chose to dig for cleaner more filtered water, by digging with their huge feet and then drinking with their trunks. It was fun to see the very little calves trying the same technique but of course they were too young to drink with trunks, choosing to still suckle from their Moms.






We left them after about an hour and headed back up the bank to find a spot high on the bank giving us a nice view of the Ele's. Our route out took us through some bushes full of Ele's eating (aren't they always!) and some trumpeting and head shaking ensued but it was all bluster and we had no choice but to go that route out.




After morning coffee and a relaxing 20 mins watching the Ele's from the bank we headed off to where a leopard had been very briefly spotted. There had been no good leopard sightings in the area for about 2 weeks which is rare at Mashatu as they usually see these more often than Lion and rarely see Cheetah. So with the Wild Dogs out of the area (they seem to be denning about 50 KM away in another concession) leopard and lion were likely to be our best predator options. We got to where the leopard had stashed a half eaten impala in a tree (they always seem to be male impala don't they?) but no sign of the cat. We had seen a few nice birds on the way over (Lilac Breated Roller and White Fronted Bee-Eater) but no much else, and it was now time to head back to camp for brunch.








After brunch we headed over to the hide but due to water the availability in the reserve the game does not need to come to the camp's pond. Saw a few Impala and a Grey Hornbill but no much else.


For the afternoon game drive we picked up the 2 additional couples; one from the US who had been staying at Main camp, and a newlywed couple from the UK (second marriage so not a young couple). The US couple had actually won their holiday in a charity auction and had never been on safari before, although they had been to Mala Mala before Main Camp so they knew what to expect.


Started the drive with the usual general game, including a herd of about 10 female Kudu and a sub-adult male. Jakes mentioned that he hadn't seen many big males in the area recently even though he would expect to see them with the females at this time of year. He thought this odd and thought maybe the Lions had taken a big share, or maybe the Zim hunters and had got them if the males had strayed over the border. Who knows? Also spotted some Pied Kingfisher and up on the cliffs some Rock Hyraxes.


We headed back over to where we had seen the young Eagle Owl earlier in the day, and it was now sitting out in the open on a dead tree stump. It was calling, so presumably looking for food off it's parents although we didn't see them around. We headed off again in search of leopard but nothing happening; the US guy noticed he'd lost his fleece and thought he had it last by the owl so we re-traced our movements but couldn't see it anywhere. A call went out to other drivers to look out for it but by the end of the night no one had seen it. This seemed strange but later in the week all would be revealed.




After sun-downer we headed for our first spot-light drive in Mashatu. I changed lenses on my camera to a small lens although I don't normally have one out on night drives - good job I did too. We saw an African Wild Cat, Genet then a Hyena; I think this is the most I've ever seen on a night drive, and for once the Genet actually looked like a Genet rather than just 2 eyes in the night with the tracker telling me what I'm looking at!




I'd have been happy with just this but we then came upon a Bat Eared Fox; this is one of the animals I was really hoping to see at Mashatu so my night really was made. Usually there was only on fox, they usually appear in pairs. We stayed with it for a few minutes and tracked it with the spot; Jakes does great animal impressions so called to the fox which turned around and responded. He then went off into the bush where we couldn't follow so we headed to camp, spotting a Flat Necked Chameleon (I think) on the way. These are also quite common in the area and they are easy to spot on the night drives as they are so bright in the lights.




Back to camp and a nice evening meal; another early night with big smiles :o

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Day 3, Tuesday 25th


This morning's drive before coffee through up a number of new birds, including Kori Bustard, Africa's heaviest flying bird, who proved to us that he could in fact fly. As always there was plenty of general game about.






Heading down to the river we were also lucky enough to see two Jackals (this will be rare on this trip as all other Jackals we see will be on their own); whilst watching the Jackals we look up and see a beautiful Pearlspotted owl - notice the two different pictures, one from the back showing it's false 'eyes' and one from the front. Then in the same tree a Crimson Breasted Shrike turned up to show off his red breast - we were on a roll here!










We also came across this little chap - can't recall what he is called and can't find him in my bird book, so if anyone knows please do let me know. He was sparrow sized with the most amazing blue body. ID'd now as a Blue Waxbill (thanks Jan and JohnR)




We head to the river bank for coffee having had a relaxing general game drive, to sup coffee and watch the Eles. I can never tire of this; if Eles are your thing then Mashatu is your place!




After the brief stop we headed down the river bank to see the Eles up close. There had been a lot of noise and activity going on and we figured it was the male we encountered on the way down (who took a dislike to us and half mock charged) upsetting the moms with calves. As you can see from the pics, some of the youngsters were very young, and still unsteady on their feet, so it's probably not a surprise that the moms were defensive.








We stayed with the Eles for about 30 mins or so and then decided to take a slow drive back to camp for brunch. En-route we saw baboons and Vervet Monkeys, some giraffe, which are always worth stopping for as they are so majestic and rutting Impala.






We were watching the impala when a call came in that a Cheetah had been spotted. Now, we had not expected to see Cheetah this trip as they are not that common in the area and certainly not at this time of year, so we got very excited. After a short drive we could see 3 jeeps next to a small bush. We waited for about 5 mins and then one of the jeeps pulled out so we could move in. Another jeep turned up about 10 mins later and a second jeep pulled out, showing that sharing sightings really does work at Mashatu.


The Cheetah was a female without cubs. She had a recent kill and had started to eat. As always she was looking around and watching fo trouble in the form of Hyena but for once none turned up to steal the food (there are not that many Hyena in the area and the wild dogs were out of the area too, so maybe this is why the Cheetah were still around). This cat was superb looking, and seemed to be in very good health.








We spent about 15-20 mins with the cat and then left her to her breakfast, as we ourselves headed back to camp for ours. We decided not to go to the hide today as yesterday had been less than exciting and this turned out to be a good call. Whilst wifey and I were reading in our tent a couple of Bushbuck came around our tent eating. We hadn't seen them before but clearly they would have seen us and in fact were quite relaxed. We went out of the tent and sat there and watched them deep in the undergrowth for some time.




Unfortunately tonights game drive was not as exciting as the previous night; still no leopard but no through want of trying. We headed to an area that Jakes knew a leopard frequents but the undergrowth is still so high that a leopard could be 2 yards away and we still wouldn't see it. It is very green here due to late and heavy rains but whilst not great for game viewing (or at least finding leopard) it's clearly good for the animals.


We did see lots of general game again, including Eland, Warthog, giraffe etc and had a funny experience with a bird-brained ostrich who decided to do a Francolin and run down the road in front of us rather than just turning off into the field.




The male lion was spotted again and we got to see him in very dim light but he was doing what lions do when they are not being hassled by cubs; sleeping. We took some shots of him, then of the sunset and headed back to camp.





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Day 4, Wednesday 26th


The last day for the US guests with us in the jeep, so from this evenings drive there will just be us 5 Brits in the car; always sad to lose companions but it will give us a bit more space to swing our camera kit around!


We set off fo the area that we know the lioness and 2 cubs are, tracking their pug marks for over an hour, but no success. The tracks keep doubling back and there is so much undergrowth around this area (a bit dry open march) that they could literally be yards away and we still wouldn't know where they are. We plan to come back in the evening and try again with the spot.


Some guests paid for the predator tour and the researcher tracked a leopard for them and then, as is usual, called the sighting in to the other vehicles; potentially great for us but maybe not so fair on those who paid to track the cat! Anyway, when we got to the sight (up on the banks of the dry river near where we normally have tea/coffee watching the Eles) the leopard had taken cover deep in the undergrowth, so again no sighting for us! We found out later all the others saw was a leopard rump as it headed into the bush, so we didn't miss much :o


We had already seen some good general game during the morning, including giraffe, eland, a group of kudu with a nice male plus two hyena, who again proved to be very shy. We did get a good view of them before they vanished, and there was very clear blood around their muzzles so they had been eating in the area; we hung around for a few minutes to see if they would head back our way and to their meal but no luck.






Eles were again in good form. Today we caught up with them away from the river to get a different perspective. Wifey got a very nice pic of one crossing our path (it was too close for my lens - my excuse for not getting a shot anyway!)









Of the small animals this morning we saw a family (business) of mongoose. What first brought our attention to their presence was the small dust cloud moving away from us along the track. It was only when we got closer that we could see that the dust was caused by about 20 mongoose scampering away, stopping every now and then to see what was following them - cute!


We got some nice birds again this morning, including Marshalls Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Grey Heron, a fly-by Gabor Goshhawk, a Paradise Wydah, White Crowned Shrike, Black Stork possing very nicely on a dead tree, Grey Louri, more Kori Bustards, and a brief glimpse of a Redbilled Woodhoopoe. Superb morning for the twitcher in me :)










Whilst updating my diary in the tent, during the afternoon siesta, a herd of impala happened to stroll past.


The plan for tonight's game drive was to try and track three juvenile lions that another jeep had seen earlier. These were made up of 2 young females (about 2 years old) and a young male (about 18 months). They had been kicked out of the main pride recently by the male who had been mating with one of the older females. We were hoping to find them before the sundowner.


Heading to the area of the sighting we did finally see a herd of zebra out in the open who didn't scarper straight away. These gave us a few pics. We also again saw a number of rutting impala, which does sound rather impressive for such a small antelope.




We then found the Bat Eared Fox again, in the same area we had seen him during the evening. In good light we could see that he wasn't in such a good state. It looked like he had a bad case of mange and he looked quite sorry for himself. Jakes says that these dudes are always seen in pairs so again seeing him (her?) on their own would confirm that the mate is definately lost. We followed him for a bit and then he headed to a bush, found some shade and lay down.


We got quite close with the car, and Jakes said this would not normally be possible if he was in full health so again evidence that he was not well. We left him in peace but heard later in the evening from another jeep who saw him that a Jackal attacked him, but the fox got really feisty and gave the Jackal some of his own medicine and the Jackal ran off. So whilst we and the Jackal may think that he looks ill and not long for this world, old foxy clearly has other ideas!








A slender mongoose appeared in a fallen tree trunk but was proving as shy as the other animals in the area; quite a cute chap but clearly not wanting to pose for us today.



The serach for the lion was proving fruitless; we had seen their tracks on the dry river bed and tracked them up the bank - well, eventually. the banks had been made very soft and steep by the Eles and the jeep was having trouble getting up. Made for an interesting experience as jakes used all his 4x4 skills to get the jeep up, often throwing us around the jeep in a roller-coaster fashion. Good fun, but causes a sore backside! Tracking the lions also brought us in close contact to a big Bull Ele in musht; don't think he was too keen to see us so we quickly left him to tearing the trees up.


We finally gave up and decided to have our sundowner; jakes advised us to stay close to the jeep just in case. good job as well, within a minute of getting back into the jeep and heading off the 3 lions emerged from the undergrowth next to us, like ghosts in the night. Mom, who was sitting next to jake in the front, said afterwards that seeing them at night made her feel so much more vulnerable than during the day. The cats moved silently through the night, no calls or noise to mark their progreess - if it wasn't for the spot we wouldn't know they were even there.




They were moving with some purpose and appeared to be on the hunt. We lost them at one point as they headed through thick bush towards the river bank. We doubled back on ourselves, found a way down to the river bed, then made our way up to the opposite bank so that we could scan with the spot. After about 5 mins the 3 ghosts emerged from the bush on the river bank and headed down to the river bed. There was fresh water down there so they were headed for a drink. We went back down to the river bed to get a closer look at them. We could now see that the 2 females were in quite good conditon but the male looked thin and had a gash on his left rear flank. They were probably a bit young to be away from the pride, and whilst capable of hunting for themselves were maybe not as successful as they sould be. They headed up the opposite bank so we left them to their nights hunting, although with such a bright moon in the sky we were not hopeful for them.




Still no leopard tonight for us or any of the other jeeps, although we did get a very nice sighting of a Scops Owl.





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Day 5, Thursday 27th


This morning we had some nice general game viewing as usual plus birds galore! Today gave us a Black Stork and 2 Spoonbill searching for food, a Grebe (not sure which one?) in a tree plus a nce viewing of 2 Lilac Breasted Roller and our first Purple Roller.








Heading out of Tented Camp today we went over towards Main Camp as this is where the Hyena had denned and Jakes was hoping we might get a glimpse of the female at the den. Well, we got a glimpse but not much more; the cubs are not out of the den yet so we literally got the female pocking her head up briefly to see what had turned up.




What was strange driving on Main Camp side was seeing the electricity pylons. We had been wondering how they got mains electrity into camp (although for the past two days this had been off and we were running of the generator which we are used to anyway). The pylons looked out of place but I guess they are required at Main Camp given their luxuries and at least 5 days in this is the first time we'd seen them so they didn't impact upon the environment too much.


Jakes took us then to a clearing that had the largest group of Eland we had ever seen - he estimated up to 200. Previously we'd seen eland only briefly on the Mara, and infrequently at Lebala, so to see such a large herd was very impressive. Mostly females in the herd but with a number of very large bulls too.The herd also included some Impala and Kudu, who I guess were using the bigger herd for safety.






We headed over to the far side of the herd and noticed a big bull Ele giving himself a dust bath. This chap was very relaxed with us despite being in musht and he bathed for some time before wondering past us and along a track. We followed him at a reasonable distance but at no time did he stop or warn us. We came to another small clearing where we had space to move past him safely and he just let us go. Crossing this clearing was a horse safari group; two guides and 4 guests. This was the first and only time we saw these on the trip; we left them to the Ele. (Sorry, may have over done it with the Ele pics, but he was just so magnificent)










Moving on further we approached a very noisy troupe of baboon who were clearly having a domestic; females with young plus quite a few male, who were chasing each other around the place. This in turn was spooking a herd of Kudu who were also present and the females were a bit spooked although the male kudu looked relaxed munching his bush.










We stopped a little further on, on top of a large koppje, for morning tea. However, before we even got the tea out a call came in that the female cheetah had been spotted again; Jakes gave us the option, tea or cheetah...erm...let me think!!! Back in the jeep we were headed at some pace to the sighting, slowing down at one point to go through a large herd of Ele. As we got closer Jakes got a call that the cheetah had been lost so we decided to have that stop in the end (toilet breaks were needed!).


Starting up again we headed to where the cheetah had last been seen and, along with another jeep, we managed to track her down quite quickly (we think the guests in the original vehicles just gave up the chase - that's Main Camp guests for you :o ) This was the same female we had seen the other day and whilst she didn't look overly fed she did look in very good condition still. She was also quite playfull, at one point playing with a small brick and tapping it around as a domestic cat would a ball. Us and the other jeep stayed with her for about 20 mins until she took a breather under a bush and we decided it was time for us to head back to camp for brunch.










We headed back the same way we came out, past the hyena den, but this time no sign of them. We did see a family of warthogs near the den, digging for roots. Let's hope they don't dig in the wrong place!


For this evenings drive we get the jeep to ourselves as the Brit couple decided to do the walking safari. We decided with Jakes to see if we could finally find the lioness and 2 cubs so we headed over that direction. As always, some nice general game en-route including a pair of Steinbok whom I finally managed to nab and a large (well 7) herd of bachellor giraffe.






We also saw the zebra, Kori Bustard and Jackal in the same general location as we had seen them previously.


As we approached the area that the lioness was thought to be we came across fresh leopard tracks. These ran down the track then viered off into the dense undergrowth. We decided to head into the bush and see if we could get a visual on the cat. No chance - it is still so green and dense that again if the cat had been a yard away we would not have seen it. The drive was quite funny though, as we continually got caught up in low branches, and at one point Ona almost got dragged out of the jeep as his jacket got caught and yanked him backwards :) I think Jakes owed Ona a drink after that one! By the time we finished the search I think there was more tree in the jeep than left on the trees.


Following the fruitless leopard search we continued what was to be a fruitless lioness search too. There was a large troupe of baboon in the area so we assumed that as they were relaxed the lioness probably hadn't been out in the open recently. We therefore headed off for our sundowner and resolved to come back this direction with the spot. As we had our beer we could hear a Pearspotted owl calling, which we saw as soon as we started the drive again, in a bush about 100 yards away.


Whilst trying to spot the lioness a call came in that the 3 young lions we had seen the previous night had been seen again; we decided not to go after these had we had seen them already and for us the search is more fun than just turning up to a sighting, so we continued what was again to be a fruitless search.


We also searched the area that we had seen the leopard tracks earlier but again no luck. The only other sighting we got on the way back to camp was an Afican Wild Cat.

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Day 6, Friday 28th


Our last full day at camp, as we are due to leave tomorrow morning; Jakes is determined to find us a leopard before we leave so this morning we head down to the river again to see if we can find the elusive male who hangs out down there. Just outside camp we see a new bird for this trip, a Sand Grouse - might be a not very exciting spot, but again we see something new! We also saw a Reed Cormorant, which is another first.








Then, as we head to the river, I see my first ever KILL!!! Out of nowhere, from the right, and flying at about eye level, a bullet of a bird shoots past us then bursts into a small flock of doves. This was a Yellow Legged Sparrowhawk taking out a Turtle Dove. It perched to have it's kill on a dead stump a long distance away - as you can see from my very poor photo even with a 500mm on a crop sensor I still couldn't see him properly. Still - my first ever kill :)


Searched for about 30 mins around the area that the Leopard is often seen but no sign of him, and no sign of any spore either. Jakes and the other guides are very confused by the lack of leopards still this week (and the previous 2 weeks too). We then get a call to say the female Cheetah has been spotted again and is on the move, so we decide to give up on leopard and go and see our favourite female cheetah. When we get to the spot there is a jeep from Main Camp tracking her - with some female guests who are clearly dressed for a day out in St Tropez rather than a safari! I'm sure the cheetah doesn't need to see women with so much make-up on!!


Anyway, this other jeep moves off and we take over the tracking; we have called in Dan and his guests but they are still having their morning tea and prefer to finish this first. Dan's guests are now the original South African's who have been to pretty much every camp in Botswana and Tented Camp 4 times previously so are very keen, plus four Americans (2 couples) who seem to want to lie in in the mornings, stop for drinks at every opportunity etc. We hear this is quite frustrating :)


Anyway, we follow the cheetah through the bush until an Impala call is heard; the cheetah then quickly moves away from this and heads to a small clearly and lies down. After about 5 mins a male impala enters the clearing from the far side but he has not seen the cheetah. The cheetah has spotted him and looks interested but there is about 50 yrds between the two; the impala is probably wondering why there are (now 3) jeeps sitting in the clearing and holds his ground. The cheetah is now between us and the impala, so by watching us the impala may clock the cheetah so we decide to move the jeep further around the clearing and the impala watches us; he still hasn't seen the cheetah.


Impala again starts to eat and wonder around the clearing and then suddenly he spots the cheetah, but instead of backing off he starts to call and moves closer. He gets to within about 10 yrds of her but she doesn't really react. She still looks well and I guess was not too hungry; maybe she would have taken an opprtunistic meal but didn't want to waste energy if she didn't need to. She just lay there whilst he called for about 10 mins, then he got bored and just wondered off; she then watched him move off and looked interested again...so we agreed we would leave here now because if she did want to hunt she would have a better chance without us.












Whilst sitting with the cheetah Isaacs from Main Camp had something for us - he had found the lost fleece, the one that our jeep buddies from the US had lost days earlier. We had tracked back to try and find the top and as we couldn't find it on the track we thought this strange - Isaacs said he found the top near the Hyena den! Clearly tthe Hyena had got to the lost top before us and had tried to eat it. Wonder if we should send the top back to the US?!?




We had decided to see Main Camp this morning before heading back for brunch, so Jakes took a detour for us. Well, Main Camp is certainly luxurious. Beautiful gardens, loads to do during the siesta time, nice raised viewing area for the pond and also a research room which was interesting. There is also a crocodile enclosure so you can get up close and personal to a real live croc. The rooms too were something else - more akin to a hotel suite than a safari lodge (we have stayed at ccAfrica/&Beyond lodges in India, and the rooms here definately compare very well).


Would I want to stay here instead of Tented Camp - No for the rooms, but yes for the grounds. The only negative about Tented Camp for me is keeping guests entertained during siesta time, which Main Camp does well - so if they could have more open/wildlife friendly grounds at Tented this would be perfect. We of course did a bit of shopping in the souvenier shop (we had to get the map of Mashatu Reserve of course!) plus a couple of branded tops.


Between Main and Tented camp we saw some good general game which for once was quite relaxed around the vehicle; kudu, a big eland bull and a small herd of Gnu.


Before our last afternoon and evening drive Wifey and I decided to have a last daylight walk aroound the camp to take a few shots - tent, bar area etc. And have a final pop over to the hide, which had been less that exciting up until now. Today would prove different though, as a family of warthogs turned up for a photo-shoot. This was our best shot of a warthog so we appreciated their appearance. There was also a large Golden Orb Web Spider near the walk-way to the hide that I snapped.










Before setting off this evening Monty (camp general manager) suggested we head over the West side of the reserve and see if we can see teh leopard who resides over there. Guides don't normally take guests over that side as the game is a lot less sparse than in the central area that we had been driving around so far. We agreed (I think Jakes was more desperate than us to see a leopard - I think he was getting withdrawal symptoms :) ).


On the West side there is a permanent stream (I guess river during the wet season) which was nice to drive around but, you guessed it no leopards! Fortunately we'd seen leopards before in the Mara and Lebala, and the other Brit couple had seen them on this trip at mala Mala so it was only my Mom who would miss out - I think she would have liked to have seen one, but we had said she likely wouldn't see Cheetah so I think she was more than happy anyway.


We did see a bit of general game out West but as warned it was very sparse; a new animal over this side was a medium sized water monitor.




As the afternoon drifted on to evening we headed back to the central area to see if anyone else had found anything (which they hadn't) and to find a nice spot for the last sundowner. Jakes headed for a tall Koppje and we were all looking forward to a cool drink. As we got to the top of the Koppje we all suddenly said 'cheetah'; right in front of us, at the top of the Koppje, were the 3 cheetah brother coalition. No one had seen any sign of these for over two weeks, so we had no idea they were back in the area. This was wonderful - to be greeted by 3 magnificent cats.


They were sitting/lying quite relaxed and although the sun was dipping quickly we did get a couple of shots of them (I had to switch lenses though as we were too close for the Sigma 150-500). Then one of them looked up and across the plain behind us; moving about was a family of warthogs, consisting a piglett and 2 parents. As the hogs got closer (within about 200 yrds I guess), one of the brothers gets up and starts stalking down the Koppje. The other 2 brothers get up too and move to the edge of the Koppje. It was very dusky now, and we had lost the lead cheetah, until suddenly there was a squeal and a burst of hog and cheetah on the plain below. A parent hog shot off to the left and we assume the piglet carried on straight as this was the direction the cheetah took.


We then heard a loud squeal (we assume the cheetah had caught the piglet) and then from the left entered the mother hog at full whack. Then from the right we could see the other 2 brothers enter the chase. At this point Jakes started up the jeep and headed down to see what was happened (the action had moved a good 5-600 yrds away on the other side of the plain so we couldn't see anything now). We got to the far side and could see first one, then the other 2 brothers scratching around hog burrows. Then the mother shot out of one hole across a small clearing and into another hole. After a few minutes the cats gave up and sauntered off into the night. We spotted them in the light for a few munites as we had called in the sighting to Dan straight away, but his US guests (to the dismay of the South African couple) were apparently still having their sundowner and didn't want to leave yet!! We had gone long before Dan's jeep turned up and they missed the cats.








We headed back to find a spot for our own sundowner and we were all so excited and thankful of our good fortune. We never expected to see these brothers and had resigned ourselves to a quiet drive this evening after we had failed to find the leopard; this certainly made up for no leopard. I had never seen a cheetah in full flight before (on TV but not in real life) and this was so special and something I will never forget. Thank you boys :)


The moon as it rose was a blood red tonight as it rose at the same time that the sun set - with this on our shoulder we headed off for our final spotlight drive. Within minutes we came across a hyena - no doubt he/she had been drawn across by the warthogs squeals earlier, but tonight there was no meal for the hyena to steal. We also came across two impala rutting, whilst being watched by a large herd of female impala; the winner of the rut then went to the females and took his spoils of battle, matting with the prettiest female :o


There was so much game about we had to keep stopping the jeep to work out what eyes we were seeing; jackal, giraffe (ok, easy to work out), kudu, impala, wild cats. A number of times Ona (tracker/spotter) thought he was seeing a leopard (wishful thinking) when it turned out to be an impala as we got closer. This became a bit of a joke in the jeep, the 'impala leopard'. After our fourth 'impala leopard' Ona said "leopard", and we all laughed again, when he said, "no, really, leopard". And it was!! Off to the right, about 50 yrds along the track, was a male leopard. We approached him and he was skittish and moved away and lay behind an old tree stump. Wow - we really had now seen it all. With the spot on him directly we could capture a couple of very dark pictures - we could also see that this male was collared. He is a well known leopard and is hard to see being so shy.




Jakes had called this sighting it too, but as Dan's sundowner had taken so long they were some distance from us. As their jeep turned up the cat got up and did a runner, clearly not happy with 2 vehicles. jakes said we would track him until Dan's spot picked him up then we should leave him to the one jeep and maybe he'll relax again. Well, we did this, but unfortunately the leopard didn't stop and vanished into the bush giving the guests on Dan's jeep only a very brief glimpse of the magnificent cat.


We headed back to camp at that point in good sprits, and I can say we definately slept well tonight!

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Day 7, Saturday 29th


Our very last day in camp and they have arranged for us to have a full game drive this morning, and then Richard (the guide) to come and meet us out in the bush with our luggage and then drive us on to the Pont Drift border crossing. So we packed all our bags last night and were ready as usual to go on the morning drive with the other 2 Brits who are staying for one more day before they themselves head off to a camp on the Waterburg.


Goodbyes and thank-yous said to the camp staff we bid a sad farewell to Tented Camp. We had been treated so well on camp over the past week that we were genuinly sad to leave. Wifey has a mushroom allergy but instead of her missing out on meals that contained mushrooms, the staff would create two bowls of teh food, one with mushrooms and one without; we never asked for this, they did it automatically. They looked after Mom really well too; every night as we went back to our tent one of the guides always walked Mom right up to the tent, opened the tent for for and made sure she was happy. They were aware that she was on her own and it was her first safari, so always made sure that she was confortable. Much appreciated!


The last drive was always going to be special; we had seen everything that we wanted to see so this was going to be a 'goodbye drive' for us. Jakes, however, was aware that he had showed us something different every day so he wanted to try and find something different again today. He was hoping for an Aardwolf (haa haa, if only); he had seen them around recently but we didn't think even we could be that lucky. What he actually found new in the end, was a pair of Ground Hornbills, a Secretary Bird (although this was a fair distance away) and on our drive to the border Richard also spotted a Kestrel - Mashatu never disapoints :)




We headed out to the general area that we had seen the cheetah brothers the night before but unfortunately they seemed to have moved on. Other jeeps also headed over there but they also had not luck finding the boys. On the drive across we did see impala doing what I can only decsribe as 'warm-ups'. They were sprinting around a bush, practising their jumping and leaping. Never seen this before; Jakes said it was likely they were just warming their bodies up and staying alert for a predator attack. He said he sees it quite often. It was funny and interesting to watch.


We also came across a small herd of kudu with young. There were no males about but the young were still suckling so maybe this was the reason for the lack of males. Other general game included ostrich, giraffe and another fly-by by a Kori Bustard.




A small herd of Eles was spotted by a water hole to the right of the track. We approached but as they looked like they wanted to cross the track and head towards the river to our left we stopped the jeep about 20 yrds away. We watched them one by one as they finished drinking an dthen headed across the track until there was only one young Ele left. He (she) was oblivious to the fact that his whole herd had now wondered off and left him alone drinking, so engrossed was he. He suddenly looked up, saw his family had gone, and you could see the visible panic in his face. Poor thing. He upped and ran back to the herd. I tried to capture the concern in his face, but maybe I'm imagining a frown and trying to inflict human emotions on an Ele? Either way, he was very cute :)












We had already failed to see the boys, so we were now headed to the area where we knew the lioness and cubs were which also happened to be towards the border crossing and hence a good area to meet richard later. As the track took us closer to the river bank (although we were a good 15 ft up on the banks) we could see in the river bed Dan's jeep and in front of them, headed up the bank, a herd of Eles. The Eles were very vocal, lots of trumpeting going on. We held back as the whole herd came up the bank and headed out of view around the corner and into the bush. We appraoched slowly and got to the bend where the track split, one going towards the Eles and one going tight right and away from the river.


We took the right fork and started to head away from the Eles. Suddenly 2 Eles came bursting out of the bush, to within about 30 yrds of the jeep, all head shaking, flapping ears and trumpets. Jakes stopped the car but kept the engine running. Then the larger of the 2 Eles (possibly the matriach by her size), trumpeted some more and then just charged us. To see such a huge animal bearing down on you is quite exciting to say the least; I've been hald charged in the past, where the Ele comes a few steps towards you and shakes the head but never a full on run. At the last moment she veered off to her right to take her just past the back of our jeep. She carried on running in a circle bringing her back to the herd. With more noise she headed back into the bush. Jakes then dropped the jeep into gear and moved off.


Wifey and I just looked at each other and said "wow, that was brilliant. Never had that before". Jakes asked Mom whether she wanted to drive the jeep (she was sitting in the front seat next to Jakes and had apparently tried to move across away from the charging Ele!). I turned around and saw the face of the Brit woman - what a picture. She had gone completely white and had a face of pure horror. After a few hundred yards talk came back to the car proper.


I asked Jakes how he could tell it was a mock charge and not a real one (I knew guides could tell but was sure how). He said if the Ele keeps trunk out and facing the thing they are charging at, and ears are flapping, then it's a mock. If trunk is tucked in under body and behind tusks, and ears are tight back against neck, then it's real. He also said if it is a mock the best thing to do is stay still and the Ele will always veer off; if you stay to drive off the Ele will chase! Later when we stopped for drinks I asked Jakes if he still gets a buzz/raised heart rate when an Ele charges and he said no, he is used to it now and knows what the Ele will do. I asked Ona (tracke/spotter) the same and he looked less convinced - I think he may still be new at his job :o


This direction took us to the dry marsh area where we picked up lion tracks, but not the lioness as we expected but the male. We tracked him for a short while and had called the tracks in to Dan who approached the marsh from the opposite direction. Then we saw the magnificent cat one last time. He was out in the open and getting ready to go on a marking session. We watched him for only a few minutes before he got up; we then followed him for a short time but he headed off deep into the bush where the jeeps couldn't follow so we left him and headed to the spot where we were due to meet Richard and where we could grab a quick coffee before heading to the border.








We stopped near an old windmill and by a small pool that had a Hammerkop feeding. We'd seen these birds before on the trip but not so out in the open and easy to get a shot at. We had our drinks and just as we were finishing Richard turned up with our bags and we transfered vehicles. It was about 9-30 now so we had had a good drive this morning. We said our goodbyes to Jakes and Ona and the Brit couple and headed with Richard to the border.




We'd been driving for about 30 mins when we could tell that Richard was on his headset but as he was speaking in Setswane we had no idea what he was saying. He then checked his watch and we're thinking, oops we're late for our pick up at the border! But no, he stopped the jeep at a fork in the road and said the cheetah boys had been spotted and would we like to do a detour to see them before we go - he thought we'd have enough time so was happy to take us. Well, yeah!!!


We took the right fork and then after a few minutes we could see another jeep in the distance. We approached and there were the 3 brothers, looking well and relaxed. They had moved some distnace from the following night and for us in the right direction. As soon as we got there the other jeep moved off; apparently this jeep would be late getting back to Main Camp now for brunch but they hung around the boys so that we could more easily find them (talk about good service, and of course the guests in that jeep were more than happy to stay longer with the cats). As we were on a schedule we didn't get long with the cheetahs, but a few precious minutes was all we needed.








This act of kindness by Richard and the driver from the other vehicle for me sums up service to expect from the Mashatu staff; nothing is too much trouble and they are always looking to give the guests a great experience whilst at all times thinking of the welfare of the animals. Richard knew that we had no idea what he was saying on th eheadset, he could have carried on to the border and we would never have known that the cheetah were in the area and we had a chance to see them - we would have been no worse off, but by doing the detour he put the icing on what was already a brilliant last drive.


The last stretch to the border was pretty uneventful. We did our passporty type stuff and again crossed back into South Africa using the cable car. Richard had taken all our bags across the border for us and waited with us in South Africa until our driver turned up to whisk us off to Polokwane airport and a quick flight to OR Tamba. Mashatu had even provided us with a packed lunch as we missed brunch, which was greatly appreciated as we headed towards Polokwane.


So, in summary:

- would I recommend Mashatu Tented Camp - 100% yes

- briliant wildlife and viewings. Plenty of game, both general and less common

- loads of birds, something different every day

- after 6 days we were not getting bored, there really is so much to see

- Mashatu staff are wonderfull. Everyone is friendly and can't do enough for you, from the guides through to the waiting staff. A special mention should go to Margaret who read the menu to us each night at the boma - never stopped smiling and always provided such wonderful evening meals

- we will definately be going back there in the future!!

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Great first day. Shall await the rest of your report - Thank You for taking the time to write it!!!


Glad to know that Mashatu still has a "tracker" - hopefully, they take their tracking seriously. I do know some awesome guides and trackers from Mashatu that moved over to Northern Botswana. So, hopefully they still have a strong talent pool.


Not a fan of electric fencing either. Your mention of Lagoon and Lebala - have always seen lots of Elephants in both camps in the dry season. Point being, fences are unnecessary.

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You guys inspired me to write the report and to take a note book with me and journal the holiday. never done this before but it is amazing how much you pack in but then forget!


Like you we had Eles around our tent at night at lagoon and it was special, but I guess the environment is just different at Mashatu and it is not practical or safe.


A quick Q ... anyone know how to get the pictures to show in the review fully rather than be little thumbnails?


Day 2 now up - will try to get the others up tomorrow.



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A quick Q ... anyone know how to get the pictures to show in the review fully rather than be little thumbnails?


This has been a very common question. What I do is:


(1) Load the pictures into an album here on safaritalk;

(2) Double-click on the picture in the album, which opens a box called \\\"Hotlinking & BBcode\\\";

(3) Copy the "Image Link" from that box into my trip report;

(4) Put the required image tags before and after the link, and it is good to go.


As per Game Warden recommendation, I keep the largest dimension of my pictures at about 750-800 pixels before loading into my album.


Hope this helps. I find it to be the best way for me.

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What a great start to your safari, and I love the front view of the elephant reaching up. Look forward to more.

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I'm up to that unique elephant with the raised trunk shot. That's an amazing photo. The cable car crossing is something I had not seen before.

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Great start! Really love the owl pictures :D


Looking forward to the rest of the report and pics

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Good report. Hope you can get the pictures sorted. I also hadn't seen the crossing - cool!


I'm very interested that you took your mother with you. Such things would never previously have interested me but I have to prepare myself now.

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Day 3 done - got the hang of the pictures now (still need to fix day 2 pics tho!)


The crossing is certainly the most bizare way that I have ever crossed a border and it was good fun too. During the dry season though the Limpopo is low enough to drive across in a jeep, so you only get the cable car during during the wet season and just afterwards.


Pault - my Mom is really easy going so for us it was no trouble. She really got into the holiday and was ready on time for every game drive, no waiting or 'faffing' about. Being slightly older she found it less bumpy sitting in the front of the jeep with the guide rather than towards the back. She is now definately a convert :)


Thanks for reading guys - it's my first one so never quite sure how it is going to come across, and I do get picture heavy I'm afraid :D

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Thanks a lot for a fascinating report, really like it and must especially say that you photos are really good. Love the pearlspotted owl pictures, and a cheetah is always special treat.


Look forward to the rest!



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Picture-heavy reports are good. Each one is worth a thousand words.........

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2 more days added :)

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What a fantastic report - It looks like you had a great time and saw a ton of wildlife!!

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Elands all over the place and good cheetah viewing. A good trip, indeed!!! Thanks for your report.

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Whorty1970, I'm enjoying your report and photos. By the way, the little blue bird is a blue waxbill. You are


certainly seeing plenty of variety of animals. I'm pleased that your mother is having a good time. We oldies do


safaris very well! She obviously knows a good thing when she sees it!






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Sorry, JohnR! I was still reading the report while you were identifying the blue waxbill. Glad we agreed!




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JohnR/Jan - thanks for the bird ID.


Day 6 now added - phew - only one more day to add! Good job I don't go on safari every week, it'd be a full time job to write the updates :)

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Thank you for the trip report. Jakes was our guide at Mashutu a couple of years ago in September and we very much enjoyed his company and enthusiasm. I did promise I'd return to Mashutu when it was greener and seeing your photos has made me determined to do that.

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